The Airbus A380 is set for a revival. Just when many thought that Covid had done for the biggest passenger airplane in the world, a number of airlines have planned to reintroduce the type into service. British Airways confirmed today that it will re-activate four A380s in November. Is the A380 really back in action?
British Airways will bring back four of its twelve A380s and initially operate them to the US when borders will re-open in November, as has been announced by the Biden Administration. The type will serve Los Angeles and Miami, which pre-pandemic were both popular A380 routes for BA. In December, the carrier will add Dubai to the A380 network. Dubai has never been part of the double-decker network before except for an odd flight and a medical diversion, but it is obvious that British Airways want to compete with Emirates. Since October 1, the home carrier of Dubai is having four daily A380 flights to London Heathrow.
BA’s twelve A380s have been in storage since the start of the pandemic, initially at Heathrow and Chateauroux (France) and later in Teruel, Madrid, and Doha. Recently, the airline brought back its first A380 (XLEA) from Teruel and after a quick check in London sent her to Manila for her first C-check. During the past year, other A380s have been frequently brought back to Heathrow for quick inspections as well but returned to Chateauroux and Teruel after a few days.
Numerous A380 pilots and cabin crew have been placed on other aircraft, but those who were kept on will require retraining. Before relaunching long-haul services, BA has planned a number of A380 familiarization flights to Frankfurt and Madrid. The airline is using a tested procedure here, as it did the same in August and September 2013 when it had just received the first A380s. Back then, the author traveled on a short hop to Frankfurt (see the main picture of XLEA), only to board immediately again for the return flight to Heathrow.
BA joins Emirates and China Southern as operators of the A380. Except for a month on the ground in the spring of 2020, China Southern is the only carrier that has operated the type almost throughout the pandemic. The airline currently flies the A380 to Los Angeles, Vancouver, Sydney, Melbourne, Paris, Amsterdam, and between Guangzhou and Beijing.
Emirates increases A380 destinations to 27
The A380 returned to service with Emirates in July 2020, but only on a limited basis. This year, the network has been rapidly expanded to sixteen destinations and will do so in the coming months. In November, Emirates will fly the aircraft to 27 destinations and up frequencies. Amsterdam, Dusseldorf, Madrid, Hamburg, Zurich, Milan, Sao Paolo, Johannesburg, and Riyadh will be re-instated in November. On October 1, Emirates became the first airline to operate the A380 on a daily basis to Istanbul.
Emirates has painted one A380 in a special ‘Dubai Expo’ livery. Three more will follow. (Emirates)
Singapore Airlines is said to reintroduce some A380s back on the schedule from November as well, but the airline hasn’t confirmed this. The carrier has said earlier that it will keep only twelve out of nineteen A380s and confirmed that it will part out two more aircraft before scrapping them.
Qatar Airways has scheduled the return to service of some of its double-deckers from December 15 to London Heathrow and Paris. This is a surprising U-turn from earlier and recent remarks from the airline’s Group CEO, Akbar Al Baker, that the A380 would leave the fleet as it was too expensive and not environmentally friendly enough to operate them in the current climate. Last week, Al Baker said he needs them to fill capacity left by the grounding of sixteen A350-900s. This has to do with a spat between Qatar and Airbus over paint quality, which according to Al Baker has affected the structural integrity of the composite fuselage while Airbus and EASA say there is no problem.
Five Qantas A380s back in action in July
Qantas will bring back five A380s into service by July 2022, a year earlier than planned. As Australia is to open borders again from November, the airline is expecting a surge in demand to the US and Europe and will need the capacity of the A380s to cater for the demand. Initially, the type will operate from Sydney to Los Angeles and from Sydney to London via Singapore. The carrier said that it will reduce its A380 fleet from twelve to ten but reconfigure all remaining aircraft with the latest version of the interior. One A380 was recently ferried from the Mojave Desert to Dresden for cabin refurbishing.
As for the other A380 operators, Korean Air continues to operate just one aircraft on Wednesdays between Seoul and Guangzhou. ANA has done only a couple of services again between Tokyo and Honolulu but currently uses its two A380s only on ‘scenic tours’ over Japan and last week to Okinawa. The third ‘sea turtle’ A380, Ka La in bright orange, will be delivered to ANA on October 15. The aircraft was officially delivered on October 30 last year, but ANA preferred to keep her in storage in Toulouse for the past months.
Etihad Airways is unlikely to reintroduce its ten A380s, but CEO Tony Douglas said this decision isn’t a final one and depends on the return of traffic. Lufthansa, however, will not resume A380 services again. It sent its fourteenth double-decker in to deep storage on September 14, with aircraft parked in Tarbes and Teruel. Asiana Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, and Thai Airways have kept their A380s on the ground for most of the past year, with the two latter airlines formerly offering their aircraft for sale. Air France has been the first airline to phase out all A380s by July 2020.
So yes, there is a kind of revival of the A380, but only with some airlines. The majority is either undecided on its future or is excluding a return to service at all. Only Emirates has said that it will operate the A380 well into the 2030s. The carrier has three more on order and will take delivery of them all no later than in November. These will be the last A380s to leave the factory.